Defoe scores on return for England in front of ill friend
LONDON (AP) — Jermain Defoe was struggling to contain his emotions even before scoring on his return from England exile in a 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Lithuania.
Although Joe Hart wore the captain’s armband, Defoe was allowed to lead the Group F leaders out onto the Wembley Stadium field on Sunday with a terminally ill five-year-old mascot.
The Sunderland striker has formed a bond with cancer-stricken Bradley Lowery in the northeast and he wanted to give his “best mate” the chance to see him score for England.
It hadn’t happened for four years but the 34-year-old Defoe delivered 21 minutes into his 56th appearance. Raheem Sterling glided through the defense and provided a sweet cross for Defoe to net his 20th international goal.
“I had to keep my emotions in the beginning with little Brad with me,” Defoe said after his first England appearance since November 2013. “It was special just to be back and playing with the lads is a great feeling.”
Injuries to strikers Harry Kane and Daniel Sturridge, allied with his strong scoring form for Sunderland, gave the 34-year-old Defoe a route back into the international fold. During his time away from the England setup, Defoe has left the Premier League for FC Toronto in Canada and returned with bottom-placed Sunderland but he hasn’t lost his scoring instinct.
“I’d put my house on him scoring at some stage,” said manager Gareth Southgate, who was playing for England when Defoe made his debut in 2004. “He’s had a really positive impact on everyone ... he was thrilled to be back involved in the squad.”
Injuries to younger strikers seem to be the best chance of Defoe making the squad for Russia, assuming unbeaten England completes the job in the second half of qualifying.
“I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players that are playing well deserve the opportunity,” Southgate said. “If we are going to be successful, we have got to have that competition for places.
“The reality is we will always lose players to injury, we’ve never been able to field or pick a full cohort, so it’s really important that we are able to call upon the likes of Jermain and for him to have the impact he had in a game like today.”
Defoe played almost an hour before being replaced by another player out of his 20s. The 30-year-old Vardy scored with his first touch, carrying his resurgent form for Leicester into international duty. As with Sterling for the opener, the hard work came from Adam Lallana as the creator. It was the Liverpool midfielder’s flicked layoff that allowed Vardy to slot the ball low past goalkeeper Ernestas Setkus.
There was increased security in north London and a somber start to the game as Wembley paid tribute to the four people who were killed in a rampage next to the British parliament on Wednesday.
STATE OF THE GROUP
England extended its lead to four points thanks to neighbor Scotland beating the only team it hasn’t managed to defeat so far in Group F: Slovenia.
Chris Martin scored in the 88th minute at Hampden Park to clinch a 1-0 victory that opened up the race to claim the playoff spot in the second half of qualifying.
Scotland climbed to fourth place and is only two points behind Slovakia, which moved into second by beating Malta 3-1. Both teams ended the game with 10 men after red cards were shown in the final 12 minutes.